Friday, September 9, 2011

Covert Chops

Long time - no blog. But that's to be expected. My blog fu is not strong.

Today's topic is COVERT CHOPS.

To a musician/singer, chops is a term used to indicate a high skill level, I.E, 'did you hear that guitar solo! that dude has CHOPS!'

Urban definition:
Ability to play a musical instrument. From the slang term "chops" for jaw, it originally referred to singers and perhaps wind instrumentalists. It eventually grew to include any type of instrument, though it is mostly used for instruments in more popular styles. (That is, you're more likely to hear about Eddie van Halen's chops than Yo-Yo Ma's.)

But what I want to blog about are 'Covert Chops'. The chops that most people don't notice.
The stuff that in my not-always-as-humble-as-i-should-be opinion is the most important.

Covert Chop #1 - TIMING
A lot of musicians have a high level of technique, immense scale knowledge, etc, but lack a very basic ability - playing in time. 
Matthew 5:37 says 'Let your 'Yes' be Yes, and let your 'No' be No. 
With that same bluntness, I say this: let your 1's fall on the 1's. Let your 2's fall on the 2's. 
Let your accented, anticipated 3-and be, well, a beautifully accented, anticipated 3-and.

I've seen everyone from beginners, to intermediate, to expert, degree level players and singers make the mistake of being lazy with timing. It's not cool. 

How to improve? 
Practice with a metronome. (And actually practice) You can't know exactly where a 2-E-and-A is with out listen and counting carefully at a wide range of tempos.
And listen critically to your own playing. Ideally, record your own playing. 
Often we just get used to our slack playing, and will have a tendency to ignore our timing issues.

Covert Chop #2 - JUST SHUT UP, WILL YOU!

'Silence is the secret to sanity.'
Astrid Alauda

Billions and billions of musicians just don't know when to shut up. They fill every single fleeting shaft of light that even closely resembles a gap with their little riffs/fills/vibrato/runs/slides/wah pedals (wait, that's only Metallica) and goodness knows what else.

It's really, really important to let the music breathe. Step back for a verse. By simply shutting up, you might learn that your bassist is doing something really cool and clever. And by shutting up, you just made space for that cool clever little thing to be the star for a verse.

There's shutting up for a verse, but even more important is shutting up within parts. Check out this song:

This song has a unbelievable keyboard part - and everyone else carefully makes space. 
The drummer doesn't do a fill or any extra color until the first chorus. 
The bass is playing a single notes on the 1's with an tiny bit more on 3. 
Guitar one is playing a single strum on 1 with a wah. 
Guitar 2 playing the chords, but sparsely.
And then in slides a svelte, well dressed, dirty little minx of a keyboard riff with such confidence and groove it takes my breath away. Nice work, and great Covert Chops, Stereophonics.

Covert Chop #3 - Tuning

A simple one, but important nonetheless.
You don't want to be this guy:

Or these idiots:

Anyway, I think thats enough for tonight - I need to go to bed. 

I'll leave you with a final tip. Spend as much time on Covert Chops as you do on technique, and you'll be a flipping excellent musician in no time.


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